Cloth of choice: terry-cloth kitchen towels
Tips and techniques: The thousands of woven loops that form the surface of these towels are designed to hold a lot of liquid. On surfaces that stain, such as carpet, gently blot don't rub the liquid.
Wiping Away Small Spills
Cloth of choice: paper towels
Tips and techniques: Use these for minor messes, since even puddle-size spills can require up to half a roll. Also, keep paper towels on hand for liquids that stain red wine, for example or that contain bacteria, such as poultry juices. If germs are a concern, spray the dried area with a disinfectant and then wipe again.
Dusting Wooden Furniture
Cloth of choice: electrostatic mitts or cloths
Tips and techniques: These products don't just pick up surface dust, they attract and hold tiny airborne particles, so dust won't recirculate in the room. This makes the cloths especially useful in the homes of people who have dust allergies.
Cloth of choice: microfiber cloths
Tips and techniques: Save these delicate cloths (which are woven from superfine synthetic fibers) for surfaces that are prone to scratching, such as stainless steel appliances. Use a dry one to rub out small smudges, or a damp one for more stubborn marks, such as fingerprints.
Cloth of choice: polishing cloths
Tips and techniques: Look for untreated, 100 percent cotton flannel, which is softer than plain cotton and distributes polishing products more evenly. Be careful not to polish silver-plated items too aggressively or too frequently, as this can wear away their coating; once a year is sufficient.
Shining and Buffing Shoes
Cloth of choice: old T-shirts that have been torn into rags
Tips and techniques: Abundant in any household and made soft from years of wear, T-shirts are perfect for this task. Apply polish with one rag and buff shoes with another. Dispose of scraps immediately, since shoe polish fumes can be toxic.
Wiping Down Large Surfaces
Cloth of choice: chamois (sometimes spelled "shammy")
Tips and techniques: Chamois cloth can absorb a lot of water and then be wrung virtually dry, so it's ideal for bigger jobs such as drying wet lawn furniture. The material is also very soft, so it can safely be used on chrome or for drying a car.
Cloth of choice: lint-free linen or cotton kitchen towels
Tips and techniques: Even the tiniest specks of lint show up on fine glassware, so choose lint-free cloths that are made from linen or cotton. Use a mild detergent to eliminate water spots on wineglasses and avoid leaving fingerprints by holding the stems.
Caring for Cloths
Your cleaning cloths will inevitably become old and ragged, but there are measures you can take to extend their lives. Sort and launder cleaning cloths by material. This way, fibers from terry-cloth towels don't cling to lint-free ones.
Wash them right after using them, with hot water, detergent and a bit of chlorine bleach, unless the cloth's manufacturer explicitly instructs otherwise. If you can't clean the cloths right away, let them dry on a rack before throwing them into the laundry basket.
While multiuse rags are more economical, disposable cloths do come in handy. Disinfecting wipes presoaked with cleaning solutions score low on economy (one use is all you get), but they're great for dealing with bacteria for instance, when you're cleaning the bathroom counter or wiping oft-handled objects like a telephone, doorknob or faucet handle.
They are commonly sold in cylindrical containers, or you can find portable travel packets in bulk and stash them in convenient spots, such as in the car, instead of storing them with the rest of your cleaning supplies.
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